Adam Girsault, International Admissions Consultant
Named after its founding benefactor, Colonel Ephraim Williams, Williams College has been among America’s most prestigious undergraduate institutions since its start in 1793. Today, Williams boasts the world’s oldest alumni association, with more than half of its graduates donating to the college each year.
Williams prides itself on being an intellectually rigorous institution where its diverse student body enjoys an idyllic campus and tight-knit relationships with their professors. The college’s liberal arts curriculum allows students of all disciplines to explore a wide range of academic interests even as they develop an in-depth knowledge of their chosen major.
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Williams is home to just over 2,000 students, making it a small college in which community and academics go hand in hand. A selective application process (the acceptance rate for the class of 2023 was 12%) means that every one of the approximately 500 students in each class was carefully chosen based not only on academic merit but also on extra-curricular interests and community engagement. Although such a small student population may seem unfamiliar to many Europeans, this is typical of “liberal arts” schools. A uniquely American system, liberal arts students such as those at Williams take a number of classes in a variety of academic disciplines regardless of their major in order to become well-rounded, critical thinkers.
Williams’s emphasis on undergraduates — only 50 of its 2,197 students are graduate students — means that every single class, lab, and discussion group at the college is taught by a full professor rather than a teaching assistant or graduate student. Furthermore, undergraduates have unparalleled access to research opportunities in professors’ labs. As such, Williams alumni are particularly successful in post-graduate careers and programs that look for applicants with research experience. For example, the average acceptance rate to medical schools after Williams is between 85-90%, with students most frequently attending programs at Harvard, Columbia, and the University of Pennsylvania.
Williams has over 350 faculty members, with a student-to-faculty ratio of just 7:1. With an average class-size of just 13, students are able to interact with their professors far more than is typical at many other colleges and universities. Furthermore, students are also free to take as many “tutorials” as they want — these intense, once-a-week classes feature just two students and one professor, and are offered in every academic department even at the earliest levels of study.
The college is well-known for its impressive academics. Students can major in 36 different areas, with English, Biology, and Economics being among the most popular. Williams students declare their major at the end of their sophomore year; until then, they are able to explore classes in any department they choose. Given the curriculum’s relatively relaxed distribution requirements, students enjoy considerable academic freedom; as such, over ⅓ of them pursue a double major.
During the month of January, students take a “Winter Study” class. These classes are graded on a pass/fail basis, and tend to focus on rather unconventional subjects: students can learn everything from glassblowing to landscape photography to how to file tax returns! Additionally, around a dozen of these classes are “travel” classes, in which students and their professors travel around the country (or the world!).
Williams graduates form an impressive community. Recent alumni include a Rhodes Scholar, 5 Watson Fellows, a Truman Scholar, and more than 50 Fulbright Scholars. Just over 90% of the Class of 2019 was employed, enrolled in graduate school, or taking part in a volunteer service program within 6 months of graduating.
In 2020, U.S. News & World Report ranked Williams the #1 Liberal Arts College in the country – for the 19th year in a row! The journal also rated it the #1 Best Value Liberal arts college.
One of the most notable parts of Williams is its scenic campus. Tucked away in the Berkshire mountains, writer and philosopher Henry David Throeau wrote that “it would be no small advantage if every college were thus located at the base of a mountain” after visiting the school. The college campus itself comprises over 450 acres, and the college owns an additional 2,500+ acres of the nearby Hopkins Forest.
Over 95% of students are members of at least 1 extra-curricular organization. The most popular one is the Williams Outing Club, which offers free outdoor equipment and a weekly program of hiking trips, kayaking, skiing, and more.
Around ⅓ of students also participate in college athletics at both the varsity and the intramural level. The Williams “Ephs” (named after Ephraim Williams) are very competitive
athletes, despite their comical mascot of the Purple Cow: the college has won the Directors’ Cup, the highest overall award in Division III athletics, a whopping total of 22 times.
How Do I Apply?
Common App, Coalition App, or Questbridge App (including a personal essay, a list of extracurriculars, and some background information)
2 teacher recommendations
Either SAT or ACT
Documentation of English proficiency for non-native speakers (including IELTS, TOEFL or non traditional means)
Optional supplemental essay
The deadline for Early Decision is November 15th, with applicants being notified of their results by December 15th. Regular Decision applicants must apply by January 1st, and will be notified by April 1st. Williams does not offer any competitive advantage to Early Decision applicants.
When do you have to start preparing for Williams?
Since applying to a school like Williams involves a number of different factors, it’s a good idea to start preparing as early as 9th grade. Students will be evaluated not only on their academic achievements, but also on the extra-curricular activities that demonstrate why they would be a valuable addition to the Williams community. If a student is serious about attending Williams, it’s important to begin participating in extra-curricular interests that they find personally valuable, such as volunteer organizations, student government, athletics, or more. It’s also a good idea to seek leadership roles in these organizations.
Additionally, given that Williams offers a broad, liberal arts education, students should be sure that the classes they take in high school demonstrate their ability to succeed in challenging subject matter in a well-rounded variety of disciplines.
As for the written part of the Williams application, students may wish to start in the summer before their last year of high school, particularly if they plan on applying via Early Decision.
What Is the Profile of the Students at Williams?
The most recently admitted students at Williams, the Class of 2023, are a diverse and accomplished group of scholars. 92% of them graduated in the top 10% of their high school class. Their average SAT scores are a 733 in reading and a 749 in math, with an average ACT score of 33.
Williams is home to many international students; just under 10% of the student body comes from abroad. Around ⅕ of Williams students are the first in their family to attend college, and about 45% identify as people of color. The college also has a substantial queer and trans community.
To apply for financial aid at Williams, applicants must complete the CSS profile to determine their family’s ability to pay for Williams. Slightly more than half of Williams students receive financial aid, with a generous program that meets 100% of a family’s demonstrated need. International applicants should note that Williams is need-aware (as opposed to need-blind) for international students; however, 60% of international students receive financial aid, with an average award of $60,000. Don’t let the cost of tuition deter you from applying if you think Williams might be a good fit for you!
Notably, all students who receive any amount of financial aid have the entire cost of their textbooks and other course materials paid for by the college; this is an extremely uncommon — but much appreciated — way that the college supports its students!
The full-price annual cost of Williams, including room and board, is $72,270. However, the average cost of a year’s education for students receiving financial aid is significantly less, at $15,000, with 17% of financial aid students paying nothing at all to attend.
International applicants should note that Williams is need-aware (as opposed to need-blind) for international students; however, 60% of international students receive financial aid, with an average award of $60,000. Don’t let the cost of tuition deter you from applying if you think Williams might be a good fit for you!